UN "Peacekeeping": Failures in the South Sudan
The African continent has experienced major instances of political unrest and human rights violations, requiring the United Nations Security Council to initiate peacekeeping missions in several war-torn nations. While there were good intentions for these operations, many failed to address the systemic problems of violence occurring. While exploring each mission is surely necessary, I feel it important to analyze a mission with a more pressing history: the UN mission to the South Sudan.
The country of Sudan, of which South Sudan gained its independence, experienced a trend of violence and ethnic discrimination that exacerbated already present conflict. Up until 1956, Sudan was subject to joint British and Egyptian rule, which involved policies that considered Sudan as two distinct territories. The southern region, which consisted mostly of non-Arab, Christian animists, had always felt neglected in policymaking, which they believed always favored the northerners, who were traditionalist Arab Muslims. When in 1956 southern leaders accused authorities of not creating a federal system to instead impose an Arabic, Islamic identity, the south revolted, igniting several, decades long civil wars that would not cease until 2005. During these years of guerilla warfare, roughly 1.5 million Sudanese peoples lost their lives, and millions more were displaced from their homes. This sparked the need for conflict to end.
Looking at the mission, it is severely unmanned and underfunded given the scope of the task at hand. South Sudan, a country roughly the size of France, is a vast region comprised almost entirely of unnavigable rivers and swamps. With only 300 km of paved road spanning the country, South Sudan was, and is, much too unmanageable for a contingent of 14,000 peacekeepers, which UNMISS has operated with for most of its tenure. With so few peacekeepers, key resources, like manpower and weaponry, are thinly stretched, with the sheer lack of roads making it difficult to transport needed resources to the most high-risk areas. This leads to remote regions of the nation lacking regular foot-patrol for enemy strongholds that may exist and whether certain economic development plans are being enacted. Additionally, guard towers and other tactical measures by peacekeepers to monitor and dismantle potential conflicts are much more sparsely dispersed, with most inadequately reinforced with the bulletproof material needed to protect peacekeepers during heavy fighting. With manpower in such low-supply in South Sudan, it is even more shocking to realize how ineffective those peacekeepers are at enacting UNMISS’s goal.
The eight-year run of UNMISS has been plagued by bad leadership and unsuccessful, uncooperative peacekeepers. The main commander of peacekeeping in South Sudan, Lt. Gen. Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, had less than six months of true fieldwork and institution development training, yet was touted to the international community as having over three decades of international expertise. With Ondieki’s true inexperience on preserving peace in a war-prone region and fostering programs that promote institution building, those under him had mixed signals about how to proceed with the mission. Peacekeepers from China, Ethiopia, India, and Nepal, the major troop contributing countries, were not operating under a unified command, often receiving conflicting orders from Ondieki and his peers. Not only did Ondieki’s ineffectiveness to convey orders result in the misuse of thousands of peacekeepers, it too prompted peacekeepers to interpret for themselves how to proceed with the mission. Several Chinese peacekeepers abandoned their posts at the still volatile border with Sudan, while many from the Nepalese faction ignored the financial blunders the region was facing. None of the missions’ goals, with several misguided parties, were ever to be completed under Ondieki’s control. Though Ondieki was forced to step down, this still presented problems, as all the Kenyan peacekeepers pulled their troops from UNMISS, protesting the defamation of Ondieki, a fellow Kenyan. Additionally, the TCCs were left to discipline their respective troops who neglected orders, which was subjective and partially futile, as it would come much too late to address the imminent, exacerbated threats that would encumber South Sudan.
Given UNMISS’s intended purpose of bolstering South Sudan’s governmental capacities, coupled with the fact that the mission was spearheaded by inadequate peacekeepers, the ethnic instability permeating the region was left unnoticed. Though most of South Sudan is non-Muslim, the region is home to a myriad of different ethnic groups. The two largest groups, the Dinkas and the Nuers, had, since South Sudan’s independence, been in disagreement as to who should be elected to lead the new nation, and when it was decided that Riek Machar, a Nuer, would be chief deputy under Dinka Salva Kiir, animosity between the groups grew. Nuers saw this as ethnic nepotism and bias in the region, but, in general, their disdain for the Dinkas was non-violent until 2013, when Kiir accused Machar and his Nuer affiliates of plotting a coup against him and the Dinkas. Soldiers under Kiir took up arms against Machar and his supporters in an attempt to quell the supposed uprising, but this instead sparked a massive civil war. The United Nations, recognizing that rebuilding South Sudan’s state capacity was not only impossible in a war-torn region, but was also much less a priority than ending violence, shifted the focus of UNMISS and reprioritized the mandate. A much more interpositional mission, UNMISS was now focused on protecting civilians, monitoring human rights violations, and implementing a cessation of hostilities agreement. Again, however, poor timing and a sheer lack of accessible, functioning peacekeepers and supplies would render this new goal rather fruitless.
This civil war, which UNMISS hoped to terminate, has been wreaking havoc on the region over the past four years. Under the UN’s terms of engagement, peacekeepers were given the right and the responsibility of taking violent actions to protect civilians and themselves from outside threat. However, peacekeepers in the region have increasingly fallen short of their requirements. For citizens of both major South Sudanese cities and remote villages, ethnic and gender-based violence are becoming a regular part of their lives. Militant factions from both the Dinka and Nuer groups have been targeting innocent women and children, simply based on their being of the opposite ethnic group. Reports have shown that civilians are increasingly being subjected to and forced to witness severe human rights violations, such as sexual violence, murder, and torture. One deplorable case, for example, involved a female aid worker who was gang-raped by fifteen South Sudanese soldiers. Throughout this carnage, tens of thousands of innocent lives have been lost, and roughly one million people have been forced to flee for safety. This is in blatant contradiction to the new tenets of UNMISS, and peace operatives are being rather complacent in addressing these problems. Peacekeepers have been under intense scrutiny for directly ignoring pleas from helpless South Sudanese civilians. These contingents of peacekeepers have been shown to dismiss civilian claims of violence against them, oftentimes ignoring their phone calls or lying to their faces about when help would arrive. Peacekeepers assured the community that they were fully committed to following the mandate and protecting innocent lives, yet for the most part have been acting of their own volition, which resulted in many atrocities being committed within earshot of peacekeeping strongholds
Since violence erupted in 2013, civil war has been on-and-off, and the UN and the international community have both been attempting to place increased pressure on the Dinkas and Nuers to come to an agreement. A peace resolution was signed in 2015 by both parties, yet the international community knew how much coercing it took and recognized that peace was most likely only tentative. Though the UN blatantly addressed how fragile the Dinka-Nuer peace agreement was, internal conflict permeated the Security Council on whether to supply UNMISS with more resources, weapons, and more highly trained peacekeepers. While diplomats were failing to reach a timely consensus on the matter, Machar, who had fled to Sudan amid the fighting, worked to form an armed resistance against Kiir and the Dinkas. Not even one year after the peace agreement was signed, South Sudan was in the midst of continued, exacerbated conflict, and to this day the region faces the consequences of UN inaction to rectify the atrocities on the ground.
Change, though very minimal, has occurred. The UN has found marginal success in gaining clearance from the South Sudanese to bring 4,000 more peacekeeping troops into the regions. This contingent of troops was purposefully formed to be much more robust and tactful than ever before, and after qualifying the mission mandate to make violent intervention in conflict zones permissible, the UN has taken a tougher stance on addressing civilian casualties and human rights violations in the most efficient way possible. Additionally, several peacekeeping units, particularly the Mongolians, are becoming successful at building strong interconnections with the South Sudanese people, which will eventually aid in securing intel on news on the ground and ensuring people that the mission is in fact legitimate. Many of these efforts, though, are in preliminary stages of development and enaction, and if the UN wants to be successful in South Sudan, it is going to have to continue to press on and fight for it. In being complacent about conditions on the ground and the rapport with the government and the people, UNMISS will remain a failure at advocating for peace and quashing violence.
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